Whether you work in an office, from home, or not at all, having an enjoyable lunch gives the body both sustenance and also a boost to be productive for the rest of the day. Before the birth of my second daughter I worked for twelve years in the City (London’s financial district). Lunch times, whilst often eaten at my desk, were without doubt a highlight. Not that the work that I was doing was dull, far from it, but more that it was a nice interlude, even if it was for a very short period. Typically I would aim to seek out that latest lunch time hot spot, which seemed to sprout up in the city by the week, but occasionally I would bring in something from home. Curry’s were a no-no as the smell was too ‘in your face’ for an open plan office, so something a little more subtle needed to be created.
Transporting food needs to be easy and fuss free. Whilst bowls of Vietnamese pho are wonderful, transporting liquid like that is certainly never going to fly if you travelling by London transport. Imaginative salads on the other hand do work well. Adding a dressing must be done when you are about to eat, otherwise everything gets a little limp and moist.
This salad is versatile in that it can be transported for an office lunch at your desk or at home, eating on your own or in the company of a friend. I love everything about beetroot – from the vibrancy of the flesh, to the sweetness of the taste and the fact that they are fairly easy to source here in the UK. This salad requires very few ingredients – beetroot, zaatar, smooth lemony soft goats cheese, fresh mint, dry roasted pine nuts , preserved lemons and a little olive oil.
For those who are unfamiliar with zaatar, it is the Arabic word for a wild thyme spice mix that is used in Levant cooking. Traditionally zaatar is made from a wild herb (with the same name), very similar to the thyme you find in the UK, that can be found in Lebanon. However many of the zaatar blends that you can buy or make yourself are a mix of fresh oregano, marjoram and British thyme. My Lebanese friend has it for breakfast sprinkled on some pitta bread with some olive oil. It is very easy to get hold of either at specialist Middle Eastern shops or the large supermarkets here in the UK.
The flavours and textures coming from all these ingredients complement each other well. Roasting beetroot takes a little time – just shy of an hour, but will last refrigerated for up to a week so you can make a batch and use them as required over the week.
Roasted Zaatar Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Quinoa Salad
serves 2 portions
2 medium sized fresh beetroot
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tsp zaatar
360ml cold water
40-60g soft goats cheese
handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
20g pine nuts
2 slices of preserved lemons (or one small whole lemons)
salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat an oven to 180 degrees fan.
- Remove the stems close to the base of the beetroot.
- Wash thoroughly and then rub the beetroot in the olive oil and cover with the half the quantity of zaatar above.
- Place in their own individual foil parcel and then roast in the oven for up to an hour. Check at intervals to see that they are softening. If they look a little dry add a tsp of water to the parcel.
- Place cold water into a pan with the quinoa and gently cook for 20 minutes, by which time the water will have been absorbed and the quinoa will be soft and ready to eat. Allow to cool.
- Heat a pan and when it is hot add the pine nuts and move around the pan for a couple of minutes, by which time they will have bronzed slightly. Place to one side.
- Once the beetroots have cooked allow to cool and then chop into rough cubes.
- Chop the preserved lemons into even smaller cubes than the beetroot.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the quinoa, pine nuts, fresh mint, beetroot cubes, lemon cubes and the remaining zaatar and mix gently.
- Finally break the goats cheese up with your hands and combine and then serve/store in a container to take to the office.
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